PITTSBURGH -- Nearly 11 months after Ben Roethlisberger requested it, the Pittsburgh Steelers are about to give their quarterback what he wanted: a tall, rangy receiver who can get open downfield. A guy whose height makes him a difficult matchup for defensive backs, the kind of receiver they haven't had since Plaxico Burress.
Ben Roethlisberger, meet Limas Sweed.
|Gregory Shamus / Getty Images|
|Steelers rookie WR Limas Sweed is set to make his regular-season debut vs. the Bengals on Sunday.|
Sweed, a second-round draft pick in April out of Texas, is expected to play in his first NFL regular-season game Sunday in Cincinnati. Sweed dressed for only one of Pittsburgh's first five games, and didn't play in any.
With backup receiver Dallas Baker injured, Sweed finally fits into the Steelers' rotation. His debut, weeks later than expected, was substantially delayed as Sweed went through the adjustments all NFL rookies must make.
"He's come a long way," said Roethlisberger, who asked the front office for a tall receiver at the end of last season. "It's hard because you don't get a lot of work in practice with me because I've got to work with the other guys (the starters). I'm sure if he gets a chance, he'll do just great."
Sweed wonders if the fans who questioned why he hasn't contributed to the offense understand that breaking into the league as a receiver is nearly as difficult and complex as it is for a quarterback.
"A receiver is just like a quarterback in a sense," Sweed said. "He has to make so many reads on the run, and that enables him and the quarterback to be on the same page. So it just takes time and I understand that. I'm very patient and when my opportunity comes, I'm going to step in and make the best of it."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Sweed's 20 touchdown catches were second in school history at Texas, and his 12 scores in 2006 tied a single-season record. That was college ball, and Sweed said the complexities of the NFL are greater than many might realize.
In college, Sweed said, a quality receiver can watch one videotape of an opponent and know what the secondary will do on nearly any passing play.
In the NFL, a receiver might be required to adjust multiple ways on a single play call depending on the coverage, and be in sync with the quarterback while doing so.
"Here, you can run five different routes off a streak. You've got five different options based off five different kinds of coverages," Sweed said. "That's the biggest thing, learning the coverages. In college, they don't disguise coverages."
Nate Washington's development into a reliable No. 3 receiver has helped keep Sweed on the bench. Washington, who wasn't drafted out of Tiffin University, has 13 catches, only four fewer than Santonio Holmes, who led the NFL with 18.2 yards per catch last season.
"I wouldn't say it's tougher (than expected)," said Sweed, who has had a problem with dropped balls during practice. "I expected it to be tough. But at the same time, I understand that you've got Hines Ward here. The guys you're sitting behind have put their time in. I just take that opportunity to sit back and learn from it."
The Steelers may expand Sweed's learning curve on Sunday, when he will line up in their four receiver sets.
No doubt Sweed is eager to catch a pass in a game that counts, something he hasn't done in more than a year. A wrist injury kept Sweed out of Texas' final seven games last season, and his last reception was Oct. 6, 2007, against Oklahoma.
He had eight catches during the Steelers' preseason, when he began learning the importance of running each route precisely and correctly. Even cutting off a route by a yard can result in an incompletion because the quarterback might be throwing to a precise spot.
"This game is a lot faster and a lot more mechanical (than college football)," Sweed said. "If you don't stick to your mechanics, nine times out of 10 you won't win. You won't win the route and you won't be open, and you've got to stick strictly to the techniques."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press